Lectionary reflection for Nov. 11, 2012: Giving beyond what we owe.

Lectionary Readings:

  • 1 Kings 17:10-16. A widow of Zarephath is willing to share her last food with Elijah and is rewarded with a continuous supply till the drought ended.
  • Heb 9:24-28. Christ has entered into the heavenly sanctuary to appear before God on our behalf. He will come to earth a second time to bring final salvation.
  • Mark 12:38-44. Unlike the ostentatious scribes and wealthy donors, the widow unobtrusively gives all that she possesses, two small copper coins.

Thoughts for Your Consideration:
One time when I gave a talk on Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Charity in Truth,” I was approached by a retreatant and asked “How much should someone making over $200,000 give to charity?” This particular retreatant expressed frustration at what he perhaps considered a harping message from the Church to constantly give. In this exchange he went over how much he gives and how much he volunteers and after hearing about a Papal message where charity is further extolled  he simply wanted to know how much his Church is asking him to give.

The readings do not give us a sliding scale to account for how much one ought to give. Charity does not offer a formula for how much we ought to give. The widows in these readings give what little they have not to fulfill a financial regulation, but in a spirit of giving to those in need. Charity in Latin, caritas, is defined as the act of loving, it is a state of life where we demonstrate God’s love for one another. A spirit of charity does not ask how much we should give. The source of this spirit is the knowledge that we are loved by God and “as the objects of God’s love, men and women become subjects of charity.” (Charity in Truth #5) Pope Leo the Great reminded the fifth century Christian community, “If God is love, charity should know no limit, for God cannot be confined.”

The widows in the readings for this week offer us an example of charity freely given. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, however that our state of freely giving to others can only exist after we have given what we owe in justice to one another.

Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his,” what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it. Justice is the primary way of charity or, in Paul VI’s words, “the minimum measure” of it, an integral part of the love “in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18), to which Saint John exhorts us. (Charity in Truth #6)

Justice is that which a person needs to experience the fullness of life with dignity. Through justice we are first attentive to the legitimate rights of the person including the right to life and sustenance. Charity then is not merely something owed; it is that which we give freely above and beyond what is owed. As St. Gregory the Great would say, “when we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”


About jdgonzo73

I am a Catholic lay minister in the field of Christian ethics, Latino theology and Paulacrucian spirituality. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Fordham, an ad-junct professor at Molloy College and St. John's University and the Project Coordinator with the Catholic Roundtable.
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